Poetry in motion

India’s cultural heritage is like a kaleidoscope, rich and varied that engulfs the viewer in a sea of emotions. But when devotion and art merge, body, soul and word commingle to produce a state that is — Stark, Raving, Mad — the theme of this year’s Mudra Festival at NCPA. Starting on April 24, the festival was spurred on by a line from Tukaram’s poetry in Arun Kolatkar’s translation.

Bharatanatyam dance performance by Alarmel Valli during the Nakshtra Dance Festival in 2012. File Pic

Arundhati Subramaniam, festival curator, shares, “Dance in this country is suffused with Bhakti; both are inseparable. Dancers perform many of these poems, regularly. Jayadeva is the mainstay of the Odissi dance repertoire; Kshetrayya is an important part of Bharatanatyam while the Radha-Krishna interplay is the basis of Kathak content.” The festival will present stellar performances every evening till April 28th in Kathak, Bharatanatyam, Odissi, and Koodiyattam.

Kapila Venu in a Kppdiyatam performance 

The stage and its spectacle
Alarmel Valli — a Padma Bhusan-winning Bharatanatyam dancer — divulges how she will perform the challenging finale while presenting the poet, his poetry and the idea, “My performance is a voyage through the poetic ocean of renowned 15th century Bhakti poet, Annamacharya whose poems (I find) fascinating and inspiring, as much for their rich imagery and beauty, as for the fact that they celebrate the inseparability of the sacred and the sensual.

” She elaborates, “Text and music are as inseparably linked as a ‘word and its meaning’. I try to embroider my own dance poem around a poem, but without compromising the essence of the original.”

Tracing the journey of Indian classical dance from the temple to court to the proscenium stage, Subramaniam stresses how medieval verses have helped in breaking the barriers of censure. She comments, “This verse is still alive. It is direct. Above all, it reminds us that the spiritual and the material, the divine and the human cannot be separated, however hard we try — an important reminder for the fragmented times that we live in.”

Gender bender
Kapila Venu, daughter of Mohiniyattam danseuse Nirmala Paniker and Koodiyattam exponent Gopalan Nair Venu, will perform to her father’s choreography. She says, “This performance will be the very first piece that we created. The ‘Soundarya Lahari’ as the name suggests is soaked in passionate bhakti.

The sloka, which will be used in performance, talks about the inseparable nature of the union of Siva with Shakti. Separated from her, he doesn’t have the capacity to pulsate.”

The festival will witness women interpret poems of male poet too. She opines, “Even though Nangiar Koothu is performed by a female performer; the essential nature of the Nati (female performer) is neither predominantly male nor female but neutral. Here, the bhakti transcends the state of being the self expression of the person performing but looks at it in a dynamic context.” Valli comments, “Annamacharya writes in many voices, male, female, devotee, lover, philosopher, friend, poet.”

Expert Picks
The festival will be multi-disciplinary for the first time in five years, including four components: film screenings, poetry readings (by poets and stage actors), talks/ discussions and dance performances. Only the dance performances are ticketed; rest are free and open to all. Prerana Shrimali’s Kathak performance on Kabir: Why Should We Ever Part? and Koodiyattam dancer, Kapila Venu’s performance on Adi Shankara’s Soundarya Lahari and workshop are must watches. Dancers and actors should not miss her workshop on April 27 morning at NCPA – Arundhuti Subramaniam. 

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